22 August, 2005

Review: Digital Fortress

Dan Brown is famous as the author of The Da Vinci Code. One of his earlier efforts was Digital Fortress (available online here) a book about the NSA and codebreaking. Now, I don't mind it when writers who, when dealing with complex real-life topics, sometimes play a little fast-and-loose with the nitty-gritty details. After all, this is fiction, right? Sometimes changing details serves to improve the story. Sometimes it only matters that the author gets the broad picture across, because only geeks care about the minutiae. Well, in this novel Brown fails to get anything right; the plot is weak and contrived, the characters are ludicrous, the broad picture is incomprehensible and, yes, he gets the crypto details completely wrong.

Fortunately for me, I have a twisted sense of humour. I enjoyed reading this, solely because of the old "it's so bad it's good" thing.

So. This is a lazy review. Summary: the novel is bad, and very bad if you're crypto-savvy. Here are some choice quotes as evidence:
  • If Susan’s body had been lanky and awkward as a teenager, it sure wasn’t now. Somewhere along the way, she had developed a willowy grace—slender and tall with full, firm breasts and a perfectly flat abdomen. David often joked that she was the first swimsuit model he’d ever met with a doctorate in applied mathematics and number theory.
  • “Exactly. An algorithm that resists brute force will never become obsolete, no matter how powerful code-breaking computers get. It could become a world standard overnight.”
    Susan pulled in a long breath. “God help us,” she whispered.
  • Enigma was history’s most famous code-writing machine—the Nazis’ twelve-ton encryption beast. It had encrypted in blocks of four. (The real Enigma weighed 12 kg - ed.)
  • Encryption algorithms were just mathematical formulas, recipes for scrambling text into code. Mathematicians and programmers created new algorithms every day. There were hundreds of them on the market—PGP, Diffie-Hellman, ZIP, IDEA, El Gamal. TRANSLTR broke all of their codes every day, no problem. To TRANSLTR all codes looked identical, regardless of which algorithm wrote them. (and to Dan Brown, software, compression methods, key-agreement algorithms, public-key encryption schemes and block ciphers all seem identical - ed.)
    “I don’t understand,” she argued. “We’re not talking about reverse-engineering some complex function, we’re talking brute force. PGP, Lucifer, DSA—it doesn’t matter. The algorithm generates a key it thinks is secure, and TRANSLTR keeps guessing until it finds it.”
  • Caesar, she explained, was the first code-writer in history. When his foot-messengers started getting ambushed and his secret communiqués stolen, he devised a rudimentary way to encrypt this directives. He rearranged the text of his messages such that the correspondence looked senseless. Of course, it was not. Each message always had a letter-count that was a perfect square—sixteen, twenty-five, one hundred—depending on how much Caesar needed to say. He secretly informed his officers that when a random message arrived, they should transcribe the text into a square grid. If they did, and read top-to-bottom, a secret message would magically appear. (Brown's just described a columnar transposition cipher. I know it's a subtle point, but Caesar actually invented what's confusingly known as the Caesar cipher, a simple substitution cipher - ed.)
    Over time Caesar’s concept of rearranging text was adopted by others and modified to become more difficult to break. The pinnacle of non computer-based encryption came during World War II. The Nazis built a baffling encryption machine named Enigma. The device resembled an old-fashioned typewriter with brass interlocking rotors that revolved in intricate ways and shuffled cleartext into confounding arrays of seemingly senseless character groupings. (It seems the only type of encryption Brown understands is transposition, but sadly none of the systems he names were transposition schemes. The Enigma didn't "shuffle cleartext", nor did the Caesar cipher. Most importantly, the rotors were made chiefly from rubber or bauxite, not brass. OK, OK, I'm nitpicking now... -ed.)
There's more, but I don't want to spoil them for you ;-)

70 Comments:

Blogger College Boy said...

I tried to read the book but got as far as NSA employees being well compensated and I couldn't handle anything so ludicrous.

-Mike

7:09 pm  
Blogger Dirk said...

Are those quotes really written? They must go slapstick, while reading this at NSA. They should invent a "worst crap" prize for that. Just checked him on my "never to read" list. Unfortunally, many writers, and even worse journalists, try to give us lectures in things they have no clue of (do they feel themselfs smart by doing that??). If you want to do some sort of techno thriller, do some research, or let it be.

8:27 pm  
Blogger Hal said...

That business about Jesus being married didn't go over too big with the Vatican, either...

4:08 am  
Blogger Arvind said...

Echo college_boy. I couldn't get past the point where there was a machine that can crack any cipher, somewhere in the first couple dozen pages. Is there a Razzie-equivalent for books? This POS deserves one.

1:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love reviews like that :) When I read the Da Vinci Code I was amazed how Brown managed to get so many things wrong in such a modestly sized book. From what I can glean about his earlier works they have an even higher concentration of errors. - ~~~~ (d'oh, I'm Haukur, off Wikipedia)

2:13 am  
Blogger College Boy said...

There is an interesting discussion of transposition ciphers over on Dirk's blog.

-Mike

12:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt, I read it some years ago, well before the Da Vinci one, and had equally strong reactions, for essentially the same reasons. You missed the nuclear reactor containment vessel building holding the wonderful supercracker computer, ... It may speak more for my formerly cast iron stomach that I actually finished it. I considered trying to write a review for someone, but decided that channeling Ambrose Bierce is not an attractive public posture. Having read yours, I regret my restraint. The Ents almost certainly hate us for the waste this one caused. ww

3:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

all you people need to shut the heck up. ITS A FICTION NOVEL WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?!??!

its a wonderful book. i prsonally feel offended when you talk crap about this book.

you people have no taste in literature. GO AWAY ALL OF YOU.
go read sesame street or something sheesh!

10:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yh the book was ABSOLUTE BRILLIANCE ... so be quiet everyone.

10:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well i thought it was an amazing book im writing a critical essay on it for my standard grade folio. why are you all taking everything he says literally???

12:21 pm  
Blogger Matt Crypto said...

When you invoke reality in fiction, you should have half a clue in what you're talking about. Brown tries desperately to sound crypto-savvy. Unfortunately, he doesn't understand the subject matter, so he ends up sounding lame. VERY lame. Read ''Cryptonomicon'', and you'll see the difference that an ounce of clue can make when writing fiction that concerns cryptography.

It's not that fiction has to always be factually accurate, but mistakes like referring to Enigma as weighing 12 tons are utterly laughable. It's like referring to New York as a small village or something. It's so basic an error that it ruins even fiction.

12:59 pm  
Anonymous Jessica said...

I read this book for a 'report' in English and I actually liked it. I think u should all just forget about all of the 'technicalities' sp? and just read it for the enjoyment of it.

11:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think it sickening that adults could be so imature as to insult a book for not being factual. it is a FICTIONAL book it is not made to be taken literally it was written to take the reader into Dan Browns imagination. if you wish to be technical about the book instead you should be praising the structure and decriptions Dan Brown gives us.

4:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the book, but I didn't understand...

Digital Fortress was posted onto the web and people downloaded it, but the master plan was to switch it with a different version. What would have stopped people from using the original version? Didn't make any sense to me.

5:11 pm  
Anonymous Arya said...

Being crypto-savvy myself, I had to exercise a fair chunk of restraint while reading this book, for several reasons.

Here's a message to all authors out there.

When the tone of the book turns factual, get it right, or don't go there. Readers who don't know better will take in what you're saying as being fact. This is worse than ignorance, because if they wanted to learn more, they'll only get even more confused, making it harder for people to learn.

An example. Chapter 4 goes into describe public-key methodology. But then the book makes the following claim:

"The only way to unscramble the message was to enter the sender's pass-key..."

Going by the description of what a "pass-key" is, I think he's referring to a private key; in which case, it's the receiver's private key that must be used...

This is clear demonstration that the author lacks even the most fundamental and basic levels of understanding of how modern encryption works. This is "the foot bone connects to the leg bone" stuff by the way :-)

Then again, maybe Dan's only fault was to trust the "two faceless ex-NSA cryptographers" - I guess we all know why they aren't still working at the NSA...

3:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Digital Fortress was posted onto the web and people downloaded it, but the master plan was to switch it with a different version. What would have stopped people from using the original version? Didn't make any sense to me."
No, the point was that they were all downloading this virus, but none of them were able to decrypt it like the TRNSLTR could, which put the virus in it, causing the problems, etc.
There never really was a Digital Fortress for anyone to use.

And as for this review; I have minimal knowledge about cryptography, so I thought the book was well-constructed, at least for those of us ignorant to the ways of true cryptography.I suppose if I knew about all the intricacies that really surround these things, I'd probably be pissed too, but I thought the story itself was, if nothing more, well-conceived, at least in theory.

I did find a few things quite lame, though, I'll admit it. Especially some of the character's personas. Sending an assassin to kill the loved one of the one you love to get 'em to love you? Ridiculous. Seriously.

3:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny to read those comments... finished the book just yesterday and was quite pissed as well. But mostly because it can be considered as quite bad literature, cheap set of characters, already-read-a-thousand-times story and so on.

I don't know much about encryption, but author's imagination is no excuse for bad research.

If I let MY imagination play for a while then I guess, Dan Brown is a pretty smart ass, learning fast and knowing things about quite EVERY topic... about encryption as well as about languages...
when I read the German parts I nearly threw up... not only that the magical master of ALL languages including different accents (a.k.a. David Becker) spoke some real bad German (maybe it was encrypted, too??), but also Hans Huber (haha, such a stereotype German name that no one under 80 is actually named like that...) talked like he studied a "German fo dummies" tourist brochure for about 5 minutes.
But of course, the usual German is named Hans, enormously fat, making out with prostitutes in foreign countries, has an incrediously small dick, behaves like a wimp and finally is too stupid to manage his own native language...

But then we have (a lucky bunch of readers we are) the eternal sunshine of NSA... Susan Fletcher... with her astonishing IQ of 170. I would consider my own IQ far below that mark, but it took me about 5 seconds to find out that the last code was "3"... Tankado with his three fingers and the difference between U-235 and U-238... if you learned a little history and even a little less chemistry in school, you can find the answer in an instant...

And this guy calls Shakespeare his big idol... outch

Greatings from a German, who's neither called Hans, fat, making out with prostitutes, having a small dick (actually I have none at all), nor unable to speak her own laguage

But excuse my bad English, by the way...

4:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just finished reading it and thought I had to write something about it on the internet, because this was bad. Very bad.

It started out OK. I'm working as a system developer and the start wasn't too bad. So I was pretty please half way through - dreaming of Susan’s fit, form body and so on ;) But then Dan Brown stops thinking. The grand plan is to get a 'pass-key', decrypt the source code, alter it so NSA easily can get access, encrypt it and replace the download. Well that's plain stupid. One: How to replace a file that's been available for download for a long time? Does Mr Brown understand anything about the internet? Two: If you succeed in replacing all copies, all these people are getting the "pass-key" and will be able to look at the source code. Hope they don't spot the if(passkey=='NSA')decrypt; line the NSA people (with 170 IQ mind you) planned to insert! ;)

Add to this a 'hero' that is as perfect as human possible, and that a professional killer can't kill even if he has 10 tries and you have a pretty stupid story. And as someone else said above here, who in their right mind couldn't guess '3' a good 10 pages before it was reviled?

7:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh. My. Gosh. I almost cried so many times when I read this book (I mean that in the worst way possible). I have a degree in Computer Science, so I know something about the subject material. To all of you people who defend this book using the argument that "IT IS FICTION blah blah blah..." Consider the following plot for a book: Johnny is a 40 year old blind man, but since he has been blind from birth, he has no idea that he is blind. He lives a normal active life, has a drivers license, plays sports, and none of his friends or family know that he is blind either. It's not until he goes in for a physical that the doctor tells him he has been blind since birth. He is devastated. He can't drive anymore, because he might crash into poles and whatnot. But after doing a lot of research on blindness, he realizes his eyes are the problem. He simply cuts, them out, and now he's healed. Yay.

Would you want to read a book like this? It makes no sense. At all. Neither does Digital Fortress. I can't even begin to list the problems with this book... Almost every page it seems (especially towards the beginning) has HUGE mistakes. The entire plot is based around HUGE impossibilities (the whole idea about Digital Fortress, and the idea that it could be a virus -- TRANSLTR would never EXECUTE an encrypted message! That makes no sense! So tell me: How does this virus magically execute itself and infiltrate the NSA's systems?) Dan Brown, as others have stated, also has NO clue whatsoever about cryptography, the internet, or computers in general. I wonder if he has ever used one. He also thinks that if you double the key length you double the time to bruteforce. NO! If you increase the keylength BY 1, you double the time to bruteforce! The relationship is EXPONENTIAL, NOT LINEAR!! He also seems to think that Susan can send a magical tracer program via email that magically reports back the IP address of the end user and then magically self destructs. WOW! That's amazazazing! Except for, HOW DOES THE TRACER EXECUTE???!! The idea is that it is completely undetectable, but the only way for it to complete its task, would be for the user to open the email AND execute the magical tracer program. I'm just getting more mad the more I write about this, so I think I better stop. But there is oh so much more!

6:35 pm  
Blogger Randall said...

You know the final puzzle in the book? (Stop reading this comment now if you had any interest in reading the book, though frankly reading this comment should convince you not to read the book.) The one which states "Prime difference between elements responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki" and turns out to be 3 because Uranium-235 subtracted from Uranium-238 is 3? Well, it turns out that the Nagasaki bomb was in fact plutonium-based, despite Brown's claims to the contrary. While U-238 was also present in Fat Man, it was only used to create a tamping sphere and help reflect the Plutonium-239's neutrons back in and maintain the fusion. The really sad thing is that if Brown had known this, his puzzle actually could have been better; U-235 and P-239 have two "differences," based on mass number or atomic number, but only one of these (2) is prime. Seriously, it's like he wrote the setup of a joke properly, but flubbed the punchline, and didn't even realize it! The inanity is breathtaking.

6:17 am  
Blogger Randall said...

(Note: This comment is unrelated to my earlier one, and contains no spoilers.)

Those of you saying "It's only fiction, of course it's going to contain a few errors" don't understand the magnitude of the errors here. It's like a book taking place in modern-day Los Angeles referring to "the island of California," or a book about a literature professor referring to the Bard as "Shakestone." And not because the author was trying to write his book in an alternate universe, or be cute, but because he genuinely believes that California is an island and that William Shakestone is a famous playwright. These aren't errors that are made to improve the plot; they make it worse. These aren't errors in difficult concepts that an author might misunderstand; reading any encyclopedia entry on the topics would resolve them. This is like claiming that England and France have had an amicable relationship for the past 700 years, without any wars whatsoever. This is stuff that anyone who would even consider writing a book on these topics should know. There can be no justification for these mistakes. If you think Brown can do this because "it's just fiction," you must also approve of a book that thinks a haiku has 5 lines and starts with "There once was a man from Nantucket." It's that egregious.

7:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An out-of-control plot with no coordination, too many chapters that're too short, a variety of techno-mistakes and an assortment of weak characters (including a pervert, a morbidly obese German, and a Portuguese assassin who doesn't speak any Portuguese) combine to make one of the most gargantuan failures I have ever read.

2:37 am  
Blogger Vicky said...

While I appreciate the ideas of all the friends who have heavily criticized Dan Brown for this piece of so called crap ... I must hasten to say that for millions ... lets say thousands (at-least) .. of his avid readers ( who have read Da Vinci ) it does not matter if he errs in telling us about the bits and characters .. what matters is that he pulls out a story that is live till the last pages and in the heat of the action I don't know how can one easily identify the password as 3 when you know that passwords are generally long.. So what I want to say is that definitely this is not a booker material but at least makes up for an enjoyable reading ... and after all why do we read fiction ... to enjoy ... isn't it!

11:50 pm  
Blogger TreSki said...

As with other Dan Brown novels, Digital Fortress contains an insurmountable amount of symbolism. I too am a computer nerd who can see the common errors an author with out a computer background has made, but I also am a fan of Dan Brown's works and I can surely say that there is more to this novel than the errors that wont allow your ignorance to continue reading.

10:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with entertainment in any form is that people knowledgeable in a particular subject matter are drawn to books and movies that showcase their own areas of expertise. I find myself often picking apart movies and books for unrealistic portrayal of things I have a knowledge of. Hollywood is notorious for unrealistic use of guns. To the average person, even many gun saavy people the details go unnoticed.

Having a rudimentary knowledge of cryptography I also caught some of the problems, but the average person doesn't and thus is able to enjoy the 'big picture' of the story.

Movies and books that ostensibly are based on facts or real events often portray a false image of history. People who know their history curse under their breath, but again they are in the minority.

I can see where someone with extensive knowledge of cryptography might have trouble enjoying the book. DaVinci code with just as bad in its own depiction of details, and likewise there were a great many people who could not enjoy it either.

But then the bottom line is, if you don't like a book, don't read it. If you don't like an author, don't read him/her. If you don't like a director or actor don't watch their movies. If you want to criticize the authors ignorance of a subject, feel free, we still have freedom of speech.

But then again, how many copies of Digital Fortress would have sold to the general 'non crypto public' if the book had gotten all of the facts right? Oh sure the byte-heads would enjoy it, but then they'd find something else to complain about I'm sure. How much longer would publication have taken if the author had expended the time necessary to research the subject matter long enough to get it right? The book would still no doubt be sitting in the cobwebs of the authors mind.

People knowledgeable enough about a subject matter to write about it without error generally write Non-Fiction books about their subject matter. There are plenty of books on the market on cryptography, anyone have the stats on the total number of copies sold? Care to compare it Digital Fortress?

It's fiction folks. Just like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. We all know that Warp Speed isn't possible, we know that Magic isn't real, and we know that child Sorcerers don't walk through walls on train platforms to take secret trains to gothic schools in secret dimensions to learn to hone their magical skills. Likewise the gadgets that Batman employs, or the possibility of a mutant spider giving a human the ability to fire steel strength web from his appendages is also fiction. Yet we can still enjoy the story.

Dan Brown may not be the best writer in the world, but his books aren't boring, they aren't overly technical, and they progress through their plots nicely. It's fiction.

I did enjoy the analogy about the blind guy not knowing he was blind, it might actually make a good story, perhaps a sequel to Daredevil???

1:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um. No. Yeah. People. Stop ranting.

To me that book was fine. Yes, it did have some errors, and I will not use the same excuse: "It's fiction."

However, this book wasn't written to be a TEXTBOOK about cryptography or computers. Geez. The plt was exciting, and even though it was a bit unfeasible, I think I don't need to remind you that it's FICTION.
The book was written to be a novel; a techno-thriller. NOT a book for pro's who can rant. I liked it, and it offends me a bit to see everyone saying bull**** about it. I'll say it one last time:
IT'S FICTION AND IT WAS MADE FOR THE FUN OF READING, NOT A TEXTBOOK


KRY***

6:32 pm  
Blogger Randall said...

I'll repeat myself, just to make my point clear: I'm not necessarily entirely upset at how horribly Dan Brown messed up cryptography. OK, sure, he did it for dramatic reason. I really didn't mind the whole "magical computer which can crack any cipher" thing; I wasn't even entirely upset by the "magical cipher which can't be decrypted by anything and which uses a key much smaller than the message being sent." What really pissed me off about the book was the climax: having a ridiculously easy puzzle which a room full of super-intelligent people can't solve, but which can be solved by a person in an entirely unrelated field. Here's an analogy: Imagine a high-tension medical thriller, about the best doctors in the country trying to stop a new disease in some isolated town from becoming a pandemic. Only they're trying to solve it by asking which style of painting is most closely related to the disease. And then an auto mechanic who happens to be the boyfriend of one of the doctors chimes in with, "I don't know, have you tried antibiotics?" And he's hailed as a genius for solving the incredibly difficult challenge of knowing to use antibiotics against a bacteria. Seriously, we're talking this level of stupidity. I have no problem when books go beyond real-world scientific knowledge; it's when their characters, rather than following the book in that direction, regress into children with less scientific knowledge than a person half their age would have had in 1950 that the author loses me.

1:37 am  
Anonymous Joe said...

There seems to be 2 camps:

People who are upset over technical details and thinking it's a real slap-stick RIOT. "It was 12 KG - not 12 tonnes, hahaha *snort* haha"

And people who are praising this as "literature" and saying that because it is fiction, the book doesn't even have to be remotely believable.

I would be ashamed to be in either camp.

The technical details didn't really bother me. That wasn't what took away from the versimilitude.

That's the word for you people out here who think that just because a book is fiction, it can be fucking retarded. Fiction is fine - but if it's not believable then you're just wasting my time. Ie. if the plot was resolved as follows:

"Then David realized he was Superman, took the ring and flew half way around the world to be reunited"

At times it felt like I was reading a book intended for idiots. And I'm not talking about how the romance between Susan and David at the end was clearly just gratuitous, silly, extra fluff.

Somehow, everyone in the NSA is a complete dumbass. When they read the final clue - Prime difference between etc. etc. I guessed it instantly and was like - oh, okay, I guess it's done now and I have an epilogue to read. But I was wrong; instead, the entire staff of idiots inc. are baffled trying to figure out - gee - what IT COULD POSSIBLY MEAN. "MEAN EXPENDITURE FIGURES?!" Fucking morons.

Same with Susan - bright cryptographer my ass; Strathmore's 5 letter password. In love with her for years. Gee that was a tough one. Really kept us in suspense there, Dan.

Or David - who bull rushes his assassin, then instead of disarming/maiming/killing his pursuer, just runs like an idiot.

Oh, and we COMPLETELY forget about Strathmore after Susan escapes. No one seems to give a damn. I LOVE how Dan Brown barely mentions him at all afterwards.

All in all, it was entertaining, the beginning and the middle weren't bad. I didn't mind the technical errors - what I did mind was Dan's *puzzles* and attempts to keep us in suspense - I found it down right offensive: you're trying to make me puzzled with THIS? Am I a part of this idiot demographic you're apparently targeting?

10:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could live with the magic computer. Most books have some sort of impossible plot device that you just need to accept and move on with. What was not acceptable was his treatment of cryptography. If Brown had just brushed past the descriptions in passing, I would have been mostly fine with them, but when he took the time to explain them, I was disgusted by his inaccuracy. I'm not a cryptographer, a computer scientist, or a hacker. I've read two books that involve cryptography: Cryptonomicon, and Little Brother. Neither is perfect, but they both do a decent job of explaining things. Digital Fortress just makes me sick. Just because you are writing fiction does not give you the right to present falsehood as fact. If the Di Vinci Code had even a fraction of the factual errors as this did, I'm not surprised that there was such an uproar.

6:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me preface by saying that I have no idea how old some of these comments are, nor do I care.

Since I just finished reading "Digital Fortress", and was too lazy to solve the puzzle in the back, I came to the wonderful world of the Internet to give me the answer.

As a literary enthusiast, and a computer systems administrator for the military, I have very conflicting opinions.

While the technical holes in the plot were large enough to drive a truck through, that doesn't make it a bad story. There are plenty of books that are considered classics that have the same problems. The story has some very contrived and obvious holes; seriously, who didn't guess that the Japanese man trying to buy the code was indeed the father of the man who wrote it.

From a technical aspect, however, there are other issues, some that I have not seen elsewhere. Despite popular belief, there is no way to brute force a hacking attempt into any U.S. Government classified information network. These networks are hidden behind several layers of encrypting software, encrypting hardware, and other firewalls that *REQUIRE* known-good IPs to even allow connections to exist, just to get to the other layers of network security. There is *NO* classified information data network in the employ of the U.S. Government that would be as vulnerable to attack as what was described. Anyone doing a little bit of research on the subject will discover far more than I have described here. Security of classified information has always been of higher priority than the information itself.

Well, I could keep going about that, but I'd probably bore most of you, and the rest of you have probably already started doing whatever research you're gonna do.

As I stated before, though, the story's technical flaws were only a part of the problem. Too many things tied back in too many times. The plot was too recursive, and the jumping around without finishing the scenes made it feel like a soap opera (sadly, I'm forced to endure these at the discretion of my wife). Based on this book, plus "The DaVinci Code", I've come to the conclusion that this is just a part of Dan Brown's writing style.

For a better pseudo-factual story, look for books by Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancey. While their information may not be any more realistic than Brown's, the paths their stories take are more enticing, complete, and, without being recursive, more polished when it's time to close plot holes.

8:14 am  
Blogger Donald said...

Oops, the biggest non-computer related error in the book was the ascertain that Fat Man was not a Plutonium implosion - that was a misconception. In fact, Fat Man was a a plutonium implosion device and its a very cheap author's trick to claim that well known information is essentially fiction without some kind of back story or proof.

12:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked this book. It was entertaining and although it may not have been technically correct, it's just a fiction book. I understand why some of the geeks might get angry over it, but I post a challenge for one of you nay-sayers to write a better book, along the same lines. You'll find that maybe your info will be correct, but it won't be nearly as entertaining.

12:37 am  
Blogger Brocky said...

The biggest problem with Dan Brown is he doesnt seem to remember what hes written previously. In this book the enigma goes from a typewriter to a twelve ton machine. Robert Langdon can drive shift and then can't. He inject suspence when there really isnt any. How many times when Susan was freaking out about something did you just say ok. It all seems really forced, and seems like someone who doesnt really know a lot, is trying to make us all think he's really smart. Thats all ive got from dan brown books, he's trying to impress everyone with his "amazing" knowledge

9:05 pm  
Blogger 2john said...

Well, I kept reading even when I realised that this was worse than Da Vinci Code, that awful, plagiarised piece of poop. Clearly Dan Brown wants to make a fortune writing books for people who don't normally read anything more challenging than cereal boxes. If you want a fight then here you go: this book is awful and anyone who says otherwise needs to read a proper book. Try 1984, To Kill A Mockingbird, or The Big Hungry Caterpillar. But I threw the book across the room when he claimed that Harvard invented the computer. That kind of BS makes me mad. The film U-571 was condemned by the British Parliament for claiming the Americans did it (and it was insulting to German U-boat crews although their penis size was not mentioned), and there goes Brown with the same crap, albeit two years before the film. Credit for being offensive first, I suppose. Why would he be so stupid as to write a book and go on at length on subjects he hadn't even researched? He clearly doesn't rate his readers. This has nothing to do with taste. It's terrible. If you like this book then you'll love "Rice Krispies" by Kellog.

1:58 pm  
Blogger Dojopan said...

I just love the fact (or rather fiction) that the two most senior NSA cryptogrophers couldn't figure out that NDAKOTA was an anagram for Tankado, especially after Brown talks about Susan's introduction to cryptography.

If that's what Dan Brown thinks is a believable error made by the brightest minds of U.S. intelligence agencies I wonder how he sleeps at night.

And btw, I've read all his books. Loved Da Vinci Code, liked Digital Fortress, became suspicious with Angels & Demons and finally, once I finished Deception point I realized: It's all the same book. The bad guy is always the same guy: the seemingly helpful and respectful third wheel. It always takes place in about 24 hours. There's always a main couple and they're always the same types. DaVinci and Fortress both have assassins with physical defects. The list goes on...

I guess the errors might be called a common denominator as well..

3:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it. BUT, alot of the math was off.

And basically... if you wanted to send encoded messages in Dan Brown's NSA world... Send the message with a virus so "GAUNTLET" won't let it decode it. And have whomever is receiving the message have the anti-virus for it.

Simple.

8:31 am  
Anonymous Steven B said...

Having just finished reading the book, I'm left with a feeling of huge annoyance.

I often glance fleetingly through review quotes on book covers and inside before reading, but pretty much ignoring what they say and reserving judgement. Sometimes after reading a book I have a quick glance again. Something occurred to me with this one...

The quotes on the back cover for Digital Fortress (at least the paperback copy I have) are preceded with the words;
"Praise for The Da Vinci Code"

Already feeling tricked by the words "Brain candy of the highest quality" that clearly now had NOT referred to this book at all, I turned to the front.
There are 24 review quotes on the first few pages of this book. Four of the first five review quotes are clearly about The Da Vinci Code too, they are the SAME quotes used on the back. It DOESN'T tell us though at the front that these are quotes about Da Vinci Code. However, many of these quotes refer to the title (Da Vinci) or make it explicit in the review. Infact TWENTY of the twenty four quotes in the front cover are explicitly about The Da Vinci Code, leaving FOUR quotes amongst them that have no indication what so ever that they are anything to do with Digital Fortress either. What the hell is going on here???

I can understand advertising other books by the author and adding a few quotes for that one at the back somewhere but this is INSANELY false advertising!!

There is ONE review on the actual FRONT COVER of my copy of this book. It is by Nelson Demille and says "Pure genius...Dan Brown has to be one of the best, smartest, and most accomplished writers in the country" I googled it...

You guessed it; that quote was written in reference to The Da Vinci Code too.

It appears there are NO reviews of Digital Fortress anywhere at all what so ever on the pages or cover of this book. NONE!

Maybe I missed something... maybe all books use reviews for other books these days, maybe not even books by the same author...

But I sure as hell feel cheated, and I haven't even started on the content of the book yet!

10:10 am  
Blogger Julia said...

I see why people a iffy about this book, but for most of us, lesser minded people, it was a pretty thrilling read. I agree that the errors are vast, but I only went into finding out about them after having read the book, which in no way at all dampened my experience.
I do feel, though, for all you guys out there that tried to read it with your superior knowledge of the subject. If you'd known anything about Brown though, you probably wouldn't have started reading it in the first place, just like an historian or religious studies specialist wouldn't risk reading DaVinci's code so as to avoid their intellectual brains exploding. Brown does this kinda stuff, but i frankly dont care. Call me naive, with my gullible teenager mind, but i liked it :)
PS - I was surprised at how long it took them to find "3" though. :P Talk about IQ 170 compared to my 126..

11:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow. Does everyone here think that this is a non-fiction book or what? It's FICTION. I don't give a damn if there are errors, even big ones. I just pretend that the errors actually hold true for the book (FICTION) but are false in reality. Get a life, guys, and read a book to entertain yourself, not because you're looking for a documentary.

6:10 am  
Blogger Randall said...

Re: Anonymous
Out of curiosity, if a major plot point was trying to find out the location of the brain in the human body, and after much debate and a bunch of doctors saying that it was located in the heart, the art history major was able to prove that it was in the left thigh, would you also say "I don't give a damn if there are errors, even big ones. I just pretend that the errors actually hold true for the book (FICTION) but are false in reality."? Because that's the scale of the errors we're talking about here. If you really pretend that the book takes place in a fantasy world where the outlandish claims of the author hold true, then fine. I just think that when an author claims to have performed research into actual facts, their books should contains some actual facts.

6:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book is good. To all ppl who wrote that this book is crap i would like to suggest to write a book by themselfs and i really would like to read it then say it's a crap and throw it away cuz i don't think that any of you could write even half good book than Digital Fortress. The book is great.

4:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the book was good despite its many inaccuracies its purely a work of fiction so the fact that he got many details wrong does not matter as much as the fact that its a bloody good read

12:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anybody considered that Brown is writing psyops for the masses that is being intentionally hyped to deliver the dose to the patient?

At the very least the spooks in Hollywood are pumping out the movies as diversions from similar themes in the news cycle.

PROMIS, Operation Eligible Receiver, and then in 2006 - Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative, otherwise known as DeVenCI...same year as the movie, 'The DaVinci Code.'

Y'see, one of the tasks of psyops is to hide things from the masses. And this includes the neurosciences used in psyops itself. Like the subject of covert psyops embedded in pop culture as semantic priming.

So what better way to inoculate belief in such things than to mass market really bad stories based on a stupid clue chase and word games mixed into really head-shake-worthy shark jumping?

No coincidence that the Dan Brown style of CLUE WOO is also being used by Disney's recent spate of Nicholas Cage movies called 'National Treasure' and another Cage flick called 'Knowing.'

So it ain't just Brown's arse gravy. It may be a deliberately smelly product to discredit other things.

6:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, another mirror in the news cycle-

This year Hollywood, a government psyops factory, gave us Brown's 'Angels and Demons.'

'Death of a scientist' woo. Utter woo. Piffle.

Well, by no coincidence, it seems this year some doctors came out saying the death of David Kelly was not a suicide.

http://www.britishinformation.com/news/News-Headlines/2009-07/Dr-David-Kelly-did-not-commit-suicide-and-inquiry-into-his-death-was-flawed,-group-of-doctors-claim-19262006/

I think there's more to the Dan Brown phenomenon than mere commerce.

6:13 am  
Blogger silentassassin said...

Umm, I seem to be four years late. To all those people saying "it's ONLY fiction", that's fine if the author pretended in his narrative that it was only so. But NO, he tries so hard to make the reader believe that all the crypto bull he shits out is fully real, and completely true, that you have to set the book aside every 10 pages, try and comprehend the ludicrous nature of what you're reading, and then get back to the book, just to see if it can get any worse. Technical stupidity aside, the book makes you feel that Dan Brown imagines every reader to be a full blown idiot. To the person who argued about Harry Potter, JKR never tries to literally convince you that wizards and witches exist, and that the Harry Potter universe isn't a made up one- because she knows that the average reader isn't an imbecile. We know it's not real, she knows it's not real, she knows we know it's not real. End of story. Also, people criticizing this book are supposed to try and write a better book? So if Tiger Woods flops on a day, and I remark to someone "Hey, Woods flopped pretty badly today, didn't he?", am I expected to try and play golf better than Tiger Woods? (This does not mean Dan Brown is the Tiger Woods of books. God, NO.)

I'd rather NOT write a book than write a load of crap that this one is.

11:41 am  
Blogger silentassassin said...

Oh, here's a link to a fantastic summary of the technical mistakes that Brown makes:

http://victoria.tc.ca/int-grps/books/techrev/bkdgtlft.rvw

11:46 am  
Anonymous Chinkyboy said...

It's pretty poor on the tech side and the prose is also pulp fiction quality but please note one thing - we've all read it which means we probably bought it - were you expecting John Steinbeck? Dan Brown may be a mediocre author but I'd trade my literary integrity any day for his bank balance. I agree with a previous poster - read Cryptonomicon if you want something a little more technically robust (ignoring the SQUID thing which is feasible but not outside a lab) but it IS a much heavier read and certainly is not in the same sales class as Mr Brown. The novel has it's place and it's not trying to be something it's not - it is the equivalent of a big mac and fries - quick and not very nourishing but it'll keep you going and everybody has them from time to time.

8:20 pm  
Anonymous Chris said...

Just a comment for those who complained about the passkey for Digital Fortress and also about NDAKOTA:
Don't forget human nature.
1: Because Susan and the other cryptos were used to huge, 64 bit passkeys they would not have thought of something smaller. They would have been blinded by their own confidence in their assumptions.
2: The same holds true for NDAKOTA. Honestly, was there anybody who's first impression was NOT North Dakota? Yes, it's an anagram. However, very few people would realise that from the beginning simply because they were blinded by their preexisting assumptions.
(Think of the "Without Wax" code. Susan assumed it was an anagram because that's what she's used to, but it was actually a historical reference).

3:42 am  
Anonymous Matt said...

Oh boy, I had to read this book as part of my 11th grade Honors English book report. Needless to say I got to page 21 and said "Fuck it, this book blows" it is literally the worst book I have ever put my hands on.

9:18 pm  
Anonymous Here's Some SPAM. said...

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5:24 am  
Blogger Eliar said...

what was the Khayyam quote at the beginning of the book??? i really liked that quote

5:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked this book when I read it - before I knew all the information was wrong. Seriously, how could Dan Brown get the Caesar Cipher wrong? If you ignore the major inaccuracies and admire the imagination, then it's an amazing piece of fiction! =D

5:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lord of the Rings meets Enemy of the State...

1:11 am  
Blogger Savitha said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:26 pm  
Blogger Savitha said...

i absolutely LOVED the book!!! It is one of the best stories i have ever read!!!!

3:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was a great book. People who say otherwise have to learn to be less harsh. You idiots.

9:02 pm  
Anonymous Caesar said...

If you think you can write a better book than Dan Brown? Go and write a book yourself. Stop writing this good-for-nothing blog hoping to earn pennies XD

12:14 pm  
Anonymous Caesar said...

If you think you can write a better book than Dan Brown? Go and write a book yourself. Stop writing this good-for-nothing blog hoping to earn pennies XD

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